By Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I knew the Thanksgiving season had officially arrived when a friend asked me whether a tom turkey tastes different from a hen turkey.
In the same way financial advisers are besieged at tax time in April, I seem to spend much of each November answering all sorts of food questions. Thanksgiving is a marathon of shopping and cooking; people want to get it right. I've had doctors ask my advice while they were giving my kids strep tests; I've been pulled aside at school meetings and at the market by folks who don't know me that well. A neighbor just called to ask whether she could freeze pumpkin soup.
This year, the Food section presented me with a poser: How could we put more green on this holiday's table? Most Thanksgiving meals tend to go heavy on the starches and light on the verdant vegetables. Sweet potatoes and squash are seasonally correct, and I'm a big fan. But I also want the pleasure of a green vegetable that isn't stuck in a casserole, swimming in butter or simply steamed.
Brussels sprouts on and off the stalk are starting to come into area markets. They often end up on a holiday table, but their strong flavor is a much better match with roast beef than roast turkey. Other seasonal green options include cabbages, kale and salad mixes. Yet none of them really provides the pop of color and crunch my assignment required.
And so, even though my column is about seasonality, I'm ready to loosen those reins a bit. What I tried to come up with were greens that seem special, either because they are hard to come by or because they can be dressed up. The key was not to take away what everyone loves but to add something that might become a new favorite.
I chose broccolini over broccoli for my first attempt. The milder child of broccoli has stalks so tender, they don't require peeling. I also opted for asparagus over green beans; the spears we get in Washington this time of year are much better than the tough green beans that are hanging around. I passed on frozen peas and grabbed fresh sugar snap peas instead. They are beautiful and have a wonderful, sweet flavor. I figured that if I'm lucky, even the vegetable-averse at our table will give them a try.
The next step was to give the vegetables the same measure of love usually lavished on the turkey and stuffing. Though the green vegetables did not come from the farm next door, the flavors I chose to pair with them are seasonal and complex. Herbs, dried fruits and nuts are easy ways to make the dishes special.
I topped the broccolini with a mixture of pecans, orange zest and just enough garlic to keep the dish savory. I treated the asparagus spears to a mix of mushrooms and onions infused with white wine. The sugar snaps were sauced with a reduction of apple cider and chopped cranberries enriched with a touch of butter.
Now that the vegetables are figured out for this year, I can concentrate on other questions coming my way -- not that I always have the answers at my fingertips. I had to call the National Turkey Federation to solve my friend's tom-or-hen taste quandary: There's no difference at all.
Stephanie Witt Sedgwick, a former Food section recipe editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Her In Season column appears monthly.